Sunday, September 10, 2000

Opponent: Prosecutor is stalling

Incumbent derides claims as election-year attack

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — The Republican running to become Kenton County's top criminal prosecutor has accused incumbent Democrat Don Buring of delaying high-profile cases so he can try them closer to November's election day.

        But Mr. Buring, the Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney, dismissed the allegations by GOP candidate Bill Crockett as nothing more than an election-year attack.

        “This is a typical attack of a nonincumbent who, be cause he can't attack my record, has resorted to personal attacks,” Mr. Buring said Friday.

        “Quite simply, my opponent needs to understand that politics has never influenced my responsibility as commonwealth attorney,” he said. “It never has, it never will.”

        Mr. Crockett's charges indicate that the race for commonwealth attorney will be one of the most heated races in Northern Kentucky's always contentious political season.

        Mr. Buring is a 16-year incumbent being challenged by Mr. Crockett, the chief prosecutor in the Kenton County Attorney's office. County attorney prosecutors typically handle misdemeanors and some felony cases, but the commonwealth attorney's office prosecutes larger cases, including murders.

        Mr. Crockett said he has no proof of it, but he believes that Mr. Buring has purposefully delayed presenting two high-profile cases to Kenton County grand juries recently, so there will be more news coverage of the cases closer to the Nov. 7 election day..

        The cases in question are:

        • The indictment two weeks ago of convicted killer Fred Furnish in the 1997 murder of Kenton Hill resident Doris Bertsch, a 70-year-old Cincinnati Opera seamstress.

        • The continuing investigation of Villa Hills Mayor Steve Clark. The commonwealth attorney's office and the Kentucky Attorney General are investigating charges that Mr. Clark broke state bidding laws by sending an unauthorized $25,000 check to a Florence concrete company for sidewalk repair.

        Mr. Crockett said Mr. Buring could have made the case against Mr. Furnish — already in prison for the 1998 killing of Jean Williamson in Crestview Hills — months ago.

        “Why was Furnish indicted now?” Mr. Crockett said in an interview Thursday.

        “Why would the commonwealth attorney wait? So the press keeps talking about Furnish being on death row, that he has this second murder. Is it being orchestrated? I can't prove that, but why wasn't this done” earlier, Mr. Crockett said.

        Mr. Buring has acknowledged that in March, a DNA test revealed that Mrs. Bertsch's body contained an enzyme matching Mr. Furnish's saliva.

        But Mr. Buring said he held off taking the case to a Kenton County grand jury until investigators could rule out that Mr. Furnish had an accomplice in the crime.

        “We pursued that possibility,” Mr. Buring said. “When we were not able to find any evidence that a second person was involved, we within days took Fred Furnish to the grand jury for the murder of Doris Bertsch.”

        Mr. Buring questioned Mr. Crockett's ethics for commenting on the ongoing investigation into Mayor Clark's case, which has not been resolved. Neither Mr. Buring nor any of the investigators on the case has ever acknowledged that a grand jury is looking at the Villa Hills case.

        “We're going through a prudent investigation, and I can't ... say anything else until it is proper to do so,” Mr. Buring said.

        Villa Hills Councilman Mike Sadouskas said residents in the city are also eager for the investigation to be resolved.

        “There has to be some finality to this,” Mr. Sadouskas said. “People want to know what is going on, they want to know what happened. I'm getting those questions every day. For the good of the citizens, the employees and the city, this thing needs to come to an end.”

        Mr. Crockett alleges another conflict of interest: as a Villa Hills resident, Mr. Buring should have removed himself from the case to keep politics out of the investigation, Mr. Crockett said.

        “If I live in that city and it's an election year and the attorney general comes to me ... the first thing I say is "Gentlemen, I recuse myself,' because I don't want this to become a political event in my hometown,” Mr. Crockett said.

        “He should get out of the way.”

        Mr. Buring said he has met Mr. Clark but does not know him well. And just because he lives in Villa Hills, that should not prevent him from pursuing an investigation into alleged crimes there.

        “It is not my desire to attack anyone,” Mr. Buring said of Mr. Crockett's comments and charges. “I have no problems talking about my record, and I'll have no problems talking about (Mr. Crockett's) record.”


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